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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

A drop of blue in a sea of red

Unfolding a political map of Kansas you'd mostly see an unbroken sea of red. Sure there would be a few blotches of blue - Wyandotte County, for instance, with it high number of poor and minority voters and the influence of union workers, and Douglas County, home of the University of Kansas and long a bastion of liberal ideas - but for the most part, the rest of the state can be counted on to vote not just Republican, but conservative Republican.

But now a tiny drop of blue can be added to the map in the tiny (1,600 and some sturdy Kansas souls) hamlet of Meade, Kan.

Meade's probably the last place you'd expect to find a battle brewing over a rainbow flag, something that's become a symbol for the LGBT community. But nonetheless, the little town at the junction of arrow-straight state highways 54 and 23 located about midway between Dodge City's "Boot Hill" and the "Land of Oz" museum in the somewhat misnamed Liberal, is facing its own version of the culture wars.

According to Wichita CBS affiliate KWCH Channel 12, the trouble began when the proprietors of a local bed-and-breakfast hoisted a rainbow flag to fly next to Old Glory from their historic former hotel that now offers 10 guest rooms.

Local resident, Keith Klassen says the flag is a slap in the face to the conservative community of Meade. "To me it's just like running up a Nazi flag in a Jewish neighborhood. I can't walk into that establishment with that flag flying because to me that's saying that I support what the flag stands for and I don't," says Klassen.

And that's just the beginning. The B-and-B's owners say the local newspaper, The Meade County News, ran an article about the rainbow flag and never bothered to contact them for a comment. The local radio station threatened to reject all advertising for the restaurant at the bed-and-breakfast unless the flag was removed.

So who are these folks who have upset the Meadeans (Meadites? Meaders? Whatever.) so mightily? No doubt some of those radical homo-seck-shul types from that Sodom-on-the-Sea San Francisco intent of forcing their perverted lifestyle on the decent, God-fearin' folks of Meade?

Nope. Not even close.

The proprietors of the Lakeway Hotel are J.R. and Robin Knight. Despite the somewhat suspicious-sounding initials and the androgynous name like "Robin," J.R. and Robin are a married couple. Married as in traditional heterosexual man and woman joined in holy wedlock. Married ... with kids.

In fact, you could say it's the Knight's 12-year-old son who set the whole controversy in motion. On a trip to the Land of Oz museum, he got a rainbow flag. As his father explains it, the flag reminded his son of the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from the 1939 Judy Garland film, The Wizard of Oz. (Being a card-carrying homo-seck-shul, I don't have to check to see when the film was made. All sorts of Wizard of Oz trivia comes pre-programmed into my genes ... like the fact that Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tinman but had to withdraw when he developed an allergy to the metallic makeup, or the fact that the studio demanded a dance number called "The Jitterbug" be cut from the final version of the film, or that ... but never mind. You get the idea.)

Now where was I before I began my digression into Wizard of Oz overload?

So anyway, the kid thinks the rainbow flag is neat. The Knights see it as a way to promote the Land of Oz attraction. It should have been a no-brainer.

Enter the fundies who see nefarious motives flapping in the hot summer breeze of the southwest Kansas prairie. Instead of following the logic of the flag over the rainbow, they focus their attention below the belt. Surely, they reason, there's a plot afoot to promote the homo-seck-shul agenda and teach sodomy to our innocent grade schoolers, they thought.

So the battle is on in this little skirmish in the culture wars.

Here's what J.R. Knight has to say about the whole incident to the Wichita TV station:

Knight says it's not meant to be a gay pride symbol but he doesn't mind if that's how it's taken. "Any gay or lesbian people that do stop by will be treated with the best service I can give you," says Knight

But despite the local ridicule and loss of business, Knight is determined to stand his ground. "When this rainbow flag shreds, I will buy another one, and another one, and another one - just like my American flag, I'll buy another one."

I've never met the Knights. I've never passed through Meade. And I've never stayed at the Lakeway Hotel. But if I'm ever in the area you can bet I'll be stopping in for a meal and even maybe a night's stay.

Now whenever I'm feeling frustrated listening to the religious right prattle on and on about family values, I'll just remember the Knight family and how they have values, too.

(If you'd like to contact the Knights and let them know they have well-wishers out here, they can be reached via e-mail at: